Thursday, July 31, 2014

Michael Chekhov's 3 Archetypes

As I've often said in this journal, I'm a thinking actress, not a feeling actress, and I'm always looking for shortcuts to developing a character. Brits are known for an outside in approach, for example: get the walk and the talk first and then to let the character develop from there.

Actor Michael Chekhov, nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov, developed a system that can help in capturing the walk and the talk. Chekhov said all characters fell into one of three archetypes, which he called Head-, Heart-, and Groin-centered.

“Head” characters seem to draw their emotional energy from the head and all of their gestures seem to come from there. They slap or tap their head, scratch their head, make sweeping farewell gestures from the head. They also sit forward in chairs and walk forward on the balls of their feet. Head characters are perceptive. Consider Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who frequently tips his hat, touches his moustache, and nods his head, not to mentioned constantly referring to those “little grey cells.” Or in the photo, Laurence Harvey expressing frustration as a Head character.

“Heart” characters draw emotional energy from the chest and heart area. They may place a hand over their heart when they speak, clasp or wring hands at the waist, and make open-handed gestures from the waist to convince you of their sincerity. Their intelligence and emotions are more balanced. They sit up straight and walk with their feet flat on the ground. Think of the characters in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Sincere, honorable, doing what’s right.

“Groin” characters are earthy types with a low center of energy. They slouch into a chair, hook their thumbs in their pockets, and lean back when speaking. All gestures, from amorous caresses to a threatening fist, come at hip level. Marlon Brando personified the "groin" character. Think Stanley Kowalski or Don Corleone.

It sounds simplistic, but with practice the Chekhov system can have enormous value to the actor, including voice actors. Try it when preparing an audition and see how your read changes from type to type.

#KayBrowning #MichaelChekhov #ActorsAccess #SagAftra


  1. if you're boasting about being a "thinking actress, not a feeling actress" " and you're "always looking for shortcuts to developing a character".

    then you have A LOT to learn about acting.

    1. Learning is ongoing for every actor, especially those who haven't the courage of their convictions to put their name on their comment.

      But I'm not "boasting" about being a thinking actress and looking for shortcuts. I'm just saying that I prefer an outside-in approach, which is often seen in British character acting. When David Suchet set about developing the character of Poirot for the Agatha Christie series he read all of Christie's Poirot books and wrote down a five-page list of the detective's habits and characteristics, he listened to tapes of various French and Belgian accents, and developed the mincing walk that he thought expressed the exacting nature of the little detective (the walk and the talk). It's a methodical approach as opposed to Method, which has come under some criticism. Suchet played Poirot in 70 films over 25 years. The films were dubbed in 50 languages and shown all over the world. I'd say that was pretty good acting.

      In truth, each actor develops his or her own approach to creating a character and that's typically a mix of what they've learned in class.

  2. Well said. @Anonymous#1: You must understand who you are as a person influences how you learn, and Mrs. Browning is doing just that. Loved the insight you gave into this technique, would love to see you perform sometime!